Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oxidative, Combustive, Synthesis based Wealth creation - Metaphors

Here is the next deep series in my Point of Arrival series.

Extending from my previous blog, I was curious to research more into the Metaphor model further. So, this time, I chose the "Energy generation" metaphor. As I was going back through the energy generation models , I talked about earlier, I realized that there are many more energy generation models in nature.

Just for the uninitiated, energy transformation in nature is done in ways that we describe in simple words
  • Burning of fuel - Combustion
  • Respiration - The technical name for this process is Oxidative phosphorylation
  • Photosynthesis - The technical name for this process is Photophosphorylation
  • Fermentation - Anaerobic respiration
Each of these processes have different chemical connotations

Combustion : Fuel + Oxygen => Carbon dioxide + Water + Other gases
Respiration : Glucose + Oxygen + Water => ATP synthase + Water + Carbon dioxide
Photosynthesis : Light + Carbon Dioxide + Water => ATP synthase + Glucose + Oxygen
Fermentation : Complex sugars => Ethanol or Simple sugars + Carbon dioxide

Researchers have spent years trying to find out the exact biochemical processes of all these forms of energy transformation. Interestingly, over a period of time, researchers have come to realize that almost all the 4 forms of energy generation have very similar forms of electron transport chains resulting in energy creation. Electron transport chains are essentially a multi-step biochemical process involving enzymes, an electron donor, an electron acceptor, and a set of redox reactions i.e an oxidation followed by reduction in a sequence. The end result is always the creation of what they call, an energy currency called " ATP", which is Adenine Triphosphate. ATP is the currency which is used for "Creating tissues, cells", and the energy to do useful work.

I was looking at them, and when I saw them closely, I could see a pattern. In each of these energy creation processes, the metaphor, I was looking for was
  • What are the useful ways one can innovate, since innovation is a metaphor for creation of low entropy energy from high entropy energy ?
There were some interesting analogies I learnt. Here is one statement as-is

"It is possible to couple a thermodynamically favorable reaction (a transition from a high-energy state to a lower-energy state) to a thermodynamically unfavorable reaction (such as a separation of charges, or the creation of an osmotic gradient), in such a way that the overall free energy of the system decreases (making it thermodynamically possible), while useful work is done at the same time. Biological macromolecules that catalyze a thermodynamically unfavorable reaction if and only if a thermodynamically favorable reaction occurs simultaneously underlie all known forms of life." - Wikipedia

All tech mumbo jumbo.. Fine. Let us try and create a more meaningful interpretation.

Oxidation : When an atom or molecule loses an electron or hydrogen ion, or gains an oxygen ion, the process is called oxidation. Fire is an oxidation process.

The Metaphor is "When a system gives out work by consuming an idea or knowledge it is called a Combustive ecosystem (which is Fire)."

Reduction : When an atom or molecule gains an electron and gives out an oxygen ion, the process is called reduction.

The Metaphor is "When a system gives out an idea by doing work, it is called a Creation ecosystem." Interestingly, strongly reduced gases such as Ammonia, Hydrogen Sulphide, Methane are associated with the early origins of life.

Most typical oxidation-reduction reactions happen in pairs, and therefore called Redox reactions. Rusting, Oxidation, Fire, and chemical reactions are examples.

Interestingly, natural energy creation systems use a Redox chain. They don't use a single redox reaction. This also needs a metaphorical view. My metaphorical interpretation is that the creation-combustion ecosystem pair needs to be done in a series of integrative steps, so that the final step involves creation of multiple energy currencies. The reason why natural creation uses this methodology is two fold
  • One is to make sure that the energy creation and dissipation are bounded by series of small energy creating, and dissipating steps. Wild energy dissipations would disrupt the quality of life, and the health of living tissues. (sustainability at its best)
  • Another is to make sure that process is exponential. i.e for a given series of reactions, how many ATP energy currencies can be obtained. The redox reactions in human cell respiration create a whopping 20 - 30 ATP kinase sequences.
Let us start looking at each of these systems
  • Combustion : Fuel is oxidized to CO2 and H2O.
  • Oxidative phosphorylation : Glucose is oxidised to ATP in a series of redox biochemical sequences with CO2 and H2O as by-products.
  • Photophosphorylation : Light converts CO2 and H2O to Glucose and tissues. In this process, water is reduced to electrons and oxygen ions, followed by a series of steps inside the chloroplast resulting in the manufacture of glucose.
  • Fermentation : In this process, complex sugars are broken down in simple sugars and carbon dioxide in the presence of water. This sequence can happen in the presence of oxygen or without it, in some cases.
Again, in search of a metaphor, I see that energy or its metaphor "Wealth" is created in these ways

Combustion :
  • In the presence of ideas and a environment of interconnected initiatives, one initiative can help another in a positive feedback, thereby converting the knowledge to useful work. This is Fire, and the Combustion ecosystem is a simple Factory model. In this model, the system is not built up. The system is self reducing, and will end, if the ideas and effort are not continuously fed into the system. Fire has a severe dependency on fuel and air for continued oxidation. The net entropy of the system increases in this system.
Cellular respiration
  • In more complex ecosystems, entropy of the system is decreased even though oxidation is used as a central theme for the energy release. This is the miracle of creation.
How do you reduce the entropy of the system, while oxidation is being done at the same time ?
  • This is the basis of sustainable innovation. In thermodynamics, these systems are called Emergent property i.e nobody can predict that these biochemical systems can evolve such complex models to oxidize and reduce entropy at the same time.
  • Now moving to the metaphor, cellular respiration is a classic example of how companies can use complex ecosystems to create new ideas and solutions, and convert existing ideas to work at the same time. However cellular respiration has a expiry date. If you looked at different respiration led animals, you would see that there is a median age where the accumulation of tissues stops, and degradation starts. This median for humans can be considered as 40 - 45 years. This is the time where the ATP synthesis has to face the battle between the entropy increase due to aptopsis (programmed cell death) and the entropy reduction due to the ATP synthesis.
What can we infer more from these metaphors ?

Oxidation is a metaphor for using a favor, and
Reduction is a metaphor for doing a favor.

So, the metaphor of Cellular respiration is that, using a complex ecosystem of vendors, a sequence of relationships involving receiving a favor, and doing a favor can be used to create Value or Wealth (aka ATP kinase)

Here is a simple down to earth ecosystem view of oxidative phosphorylation.
  • A (aka Mitochondria in a cell) wants to create wealth.
  • A pushes X to do a favor (Redox pair) to Y, pushes Y to do a favor (another redox pair) to Z.
  • Now, A has created a situation wherein X, Y and Z are obligated to A. (This is the 4 H+ ions generated by the four electron transport chain processes)
  • Use that entropy to make X, Y and Z combine together to create value for A (aka ATP synthase)
In fact, how many people do we see around us who actually use the above model to create wealth. ? When they think like this, they are actually mimicing the very biochemical processes that we describe here in this blog. This is the Grand metaphor of Creation.

  • Photosynthesis is the reverse of cellular respiration. Light reduces water to ions, which are then used to create a proton pump, which transfers energy through a series of reduction chains to form glucose.
  • This is another way to reduce entropy. The process of photosynthesis is exactly the reverse of cellular respiration. In both these cases, the protons created in the end are used to do useful work such as creating ATP synthase.
So, what is the metaphor for photosynthesis ?

How do we create Value or Wealth by doing a series of favors to others in a sequence. ? We earlier covered the fact that Chemical Reduction is a metaphor for doing a favor.

So, let us outline the simple down to earth view of Photophosphorylation aka Photosynthesis.
  • A(chloroplast) wants to create Value or Wealth
  • A pushes X to do a favor (Reduction) to Y, thereby creating an obligation (Oxidation) with Y. He then pushes Y to do a favor to Z or sometimes it happens that Y automatically does a favor to Z. Z does a favor to P.
  • The output of X, Y, Z and P can be used to create Value or Wealth (aka ATP synthase)
I remember not long ago , watching a movie called "Pay Forward". Its a movie of a child who does a school project where he does a favor to 3 people, and asks them to do the same. Eventually the result of that is for you to see in the end of the movie.

Humans have a choice of using a chain of favors to be received, or a chain of favors to be done.

A tree is a metaphor for a creation by Doing favors.
A Fire is a metaphor for a creation by Receiving favors.

What is the metaphor for O2, CO2 and H2O. ?

O2 is a low entropy idea aka usable idea
CO2 is a high entropy idea aka unusable idea or knowledge that requires a lot of energy to make it usable.
H2O is a metaphor for a high entropy system that contains energy and knowledge, but requires light aka Inspiration to bring out the Energy and Ideas. The metaphor for H2O is also Pisces, Scorpio and Cancer, and the metaphor for Light is Saggitarius.

This was quite amazing, when I started looking at the metaphors at a chemical level. The world around us is just full of metaphors. In fact, there are a million metaphors around us just as we breath, just as we live.

We humans are walking metaphors. We think metaphors, while we are metaphors by ourselves. This recursive view of creation is staggering, to think that from a micro scale to a large scale, creation has carefully stitched a series of such systems, that essentially are nothing but the same systems stitched using different names or different look and feel or composition. We call them "Chemicals" or " Behaviour" or " Tree" or " Humans" or "Zodiac"..

So, if we look at the life around us, and as we see things microscopically at cell level, or at human behavior level, the systems are actually the same. They just carry different names called O2 or Ideas or Gemini. They are one and the same.

This is the Core of Creation.

A single systemic principle applied using
  • Different physical constructs at physical, metaphysical, mental level
  • Different scale levels at atomic, molecular, chemical, physical and mental level
  • Different applications in chemistry, biology, physiology, and human sciences
  • Same pattern of behavior, but different manifestations of that behavior in the real world.
This is also the core principle of Chaos theory.

This is a very simple model. It is not to say that these processes are simple. They are complex, but multiple sciences such as human behavior, biochemistry, chemistry, planetary dynamics, and pseudo sciences such as astrology are all based on a set predictable pattern based on the same principles of construct, scale and behavior. In the real world, the way we perceive those behavior is different.

Creation is so cleverly manufactured that we cannot see the connect between an cellular respiration, a chemical reaction, and a human reaction to stimuli.

Actually they are one and the same, manifested in different physical constructs.

From a practical perspective, people who are not too keen to lift the carpet and see below, can use these learnings to understand human behavior, organizational behavior and use in setting up innovation ecosystems or can use this in understanding each other better.

Simplicity is very complex. :) Complexity is very simple. Or is it ?

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